FTC Gives Conditional OK to Lawry’s Buyout

     The Federal Trade Commission agreed to approve spice maker McCormick & Company’s proposed $605 million acquisition of an overseas company’s Lawry’s brand, on the condition that McCormick sells its Season-All business to Morton International Inc.

     In an antitrust complaint filed Wednesday, the commission called McCormick’s proposed purchase of the Lawry’s and Adolph’s seasoning brands “anticompetitive,” as it would give McCormick 80 percent of the “highly concentrated” market for branded seasoned salts, likely driving up U.S. food prices.
     Last November, McCormick offered Netherlands marinade and seasoning company Unilever N.V. $605 million for the Lawry’s and Adolph’s brands, which made $153 million in 2006.
     Under a consent order from the commission, McCormick has agreed to sell its Season-All salt business to Morton, another salt product manufacturer, within 10 days of completing its purchase of the big brands.
     The FTC agreed to the complaint and consent order in an unanimous vote, fearing loss of competition between McCormick and Lawry’s, whose sales compromise most of the $100 million in annual sales of branded seasoned salt products in the United States. In a press release Wednesday, the commission explained that brand loyalty makes consumers willing to spend up to five to ten percent more for McCormick and Lawry’s products before switching to other spice and seasoning products.
     The order allows the FTC to appoint a trustee to divest McCormick assets if necessary and ensure that the company maintains the viability of the Season-All brand before its sale to Morton. It also precludes McCormick from acquiring another seasoned salt product or interest in other spice blends businesses for 10 years.
     McCormick’s Season-All business includes Season-All seasoned salt, Garlic Season-All seasoned salt, Pepper Season-All seasoned salt, Spicy Season-All seasoned salt, 25% Less Sodium Season-All seasoned salt and Season-All coating mix.
     Maryland-based McCormick made $2.6 billion in 2006 selling flavoring products to grocery stores and other food retailers.
     The 30-day public comment period for the consent order ends Aug. 28.

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